Saturday, June 15, 2024

Review: Doctor Who: Space Babies

This review has been a long time coming. For the first time, possibly ever, life has been so busy that I've rarely been at home when Doctor Who has been transmitted on the BBC each week ... and even when I have, circumstances have conspired to make it impossible to watch the episodes 'on time' or online, and then, as I like to watch a second time before I pen the review ... trying to fit that second viewing in has likewise been impossible!

So. I finally managed to get time to watch 'Space Babies' for a second time ... and so here are some thoughts.

I've always appreciated that Doctor Who can tell all manner of different stories ... and that, for the most part, anything goes ...  And of course if you don't like a particular episode, then there's another along next week which you might like. Thus Doctor Who has always been. For every 'The Twin Dilemma' there's been a 'Caves of Androzani' ... for every 'The Web Planet', there's been a 'The Crusade' ... different stories, takes, times, eras, casts ... and tone, sometimes wildly different tones. 

The problem in 2024 is that the internet amplifies the cries of those who didn't enjoy (or who claim to not enjoy but keep watching anyway), and seems to make them louder ... drowning out the voices who quite liked what they saw. Plus there's a lot riding on people knocking and complaining about the show. There are YouTube Warriors out there who get paid the more people watch their content, and bad news always 'sells more' than good. So it is in their interests to decry, loudly and forcefully, anything they see which they think they might get more clicks from by hating.

And I ignore all of them.

Everyone is entitled to their opinion ... so here's my take.

On first viewing I felt that 'Space Babies' was a strange way to open a new season with a new Doctor. OK, we'd seen him in 'The Church on Ruby Road' ... but this was the start of a new season and a new era for the show - Disney Who!

It seemed light and inconsequential somehow - a space station run by babies, whose parents had all inexplicably abandoned them, apparently against their own wishes, but one adult had stayed to look after them.

Lets get the questions out the way first: why are these babies just left there, presumably to die, by the corporation? (This is actually answered in a line from Jocelyn: 'It's the recession. The government closed the Babystation to save money, but the law says it's illegal to stop the birth machine.') Moreso, the space station is abandoned with a finite supply of food and air ... so this is a death sentence! Why don't the babies age? They have been there six years, but none have aged. And how do they know how to operate the station? I know there's an AI to look after them but even so! And who built all the levers and hands and ropes and pulleys to enable them to operate it?  Maybe it was all the work of the on-site accountant Jocelyn? But that seems unlikely. And there are more babies growing in vats - the Doctor says it's a baby-making machine, but no-one thought to turn it off? (Again ... apparently it was against the law to do that!)

This is all a polemic on certain abortion laws which say that you cannot terminate a foetus before it's born, but at the same time, the same state provides no support for babies once they are born. There's also an element regarding refugees: that they have to actually turn up on your shore before you will help them ...

I remember my reviews of the earlier Russell T Davies scripts, and this is a common complaint. There are questions which don't have answers ... probably because as far as the narrative is concerned (and a 45 minute runtime), they don't need answers. The viewer has to just accept, and move on ... and never is this truer than here!

So the Doctor and Ruby arrive, and find the space station run by babies, and there's a monster in the lower levels. A bogeyman. In fact a literal bogeyman as it's made from the snot and tissues discarded by the babies over the course of the years. There's something about the machine creating it because the babies needed to be scared ... or something ... but then the babies, who were all crying and wailing at the very mention of the bogeyman, suddenly get all motivated to try and hunt it down ... but then when Jocelyn tries to kill it, the babies are upset at that as well. Make your minds up! But of course the Doctor has to rescue it rather than killing it, and so, in scenes very reminiscent of Alien3 - I think - the one with the mutant Alien/Human hybrid anyway - the Doctor has to shut the airlock and save the monster rather than open it and kill it!

I did wonder what the monster was intending to do with the Doctor/Ruby/any babies if it caught them. Was it going to just kill them?  It showed no signs of any intelligence, so saving an irrational, roaring, killing, snot-monster seems a little reckless to me. And even if it did get ejected, then wouldn't the Machine just make another one?

Other random things about the episode.  I noticed 'mavity' on the screen near the beginning, so that 'joke' is perpetuating. Actress Susan Twist crops up this time as one of the original crew on a monitor screen. The button to close the airlock is helpfully inside the airlock - wouldn't there perhaps also be one outside? And finally, the space station has no propulsion of its own, so the Doctor 'blows' it towards the 'home planet' by venting all the trapped and built up methane from the dirty nappies. But physics says that the station will then just continue on that course and basically crash into the planet, drawn there in part by its mavity. Assuming of course that the planet hasn't moved in the interim or the Doctor took any movement into account when he vented the ship. So he's just assuming/hoping that the inhabitants of the planet have some means to intercept the station and get all the babies (and accountant) off it before it burns up entering the atmosphere and crashes down to the surface. That's a bit of a risk to take! Plus what damage might the space station do if it did crash? Someone didn't think this through!

And finally, finally, the ongoing story. I mentioned Susan Twist's appearance earlier, and we have the appearance of snow falling when the Doctor discusses Ruby being found outside the church. There's also the idea that he can never revisit that time again.  But then the TARDIS does some sort of a DNA analysis of Ruby, and I'm not sure what the point of this was. The readings seem to show that she's human, and is aged either 10 years, 3 hours; or 19 years, 3 hours - you can't really see what that first number is. If it's 10; then that's odd. If it's 19; then that seems perfectly normal to me. Oh, and it snows in the TARDIS as well ... maybe the snow is important?

The mystery deepens.

There's also an interesting sequence at the start where Ruby accidentally steps on and kills a butterfly during a visit to ancient dinosaury history and is instantly transformed into some sort of reptile creature called Rubithon Blue. Luckily the Doctor somehow manages to bring the butterfly back to life (mysterious), and the timeline is corrected. Is this some sort of foreshadowing? Or just a fun scene to show what can happen if you trample through time. It's something not really touched on before in the series - that changing the past also changes the present and the future based on that point of view. The issue of course is that EVERY time is someone's future, so perhaps the Doctor was correct in 'The Aztecs' when he tells Barbara that you cannot change history ... not one word! Which of course implies that you can't actually do or change anything! Which is pretty hard!

Overall I quite liked the story. It's simple, yes, but it ticks all the right boxes. It's exciting, and the babies are cute and well done. The sets and the space station are smashing, and the director wisely keeps the bogeyman's appearances to flashes and CCTV camera views, using close cutting and never quite showing the viewer the full creature. Although the full thing does look pretty good, there are obvious parallels to the Giger design for Alien.

Not the greatest start for a season, but not bad, and the narrative certainly gives Gatwa and Gibson a lot of material to work with to make their characters shine.

Friday, June 14, 2024

Review: Doctor Who: The Celestial Toymaker Animation (2024)

I'm not the greatest fan of the recent Doctor Who animations. I think I'm of an age where I would prefer to see the episodes themselves, and if I can't do that (because the BBC wiped a load of them and they are currently 'missing') then I'd rather see something which is close to what the episodes actually looked like. I'm also of the view that if you're going to spend money to 'remake' them, then animation is not really the way to go ... why not literally remake them, with a new cast but using the old scripts ...

However.

For this sixties William Hartnell story, 'The Celestial Toymaker', the team have decided to take the idea of reimagining everything to another level.  Previous stories had the sets and the effects reimagined, and increasing divergence from what was seen on television/intended by the original director. But here it's a totally new and different visual from the original.

I'm not sure which came first: the ideas for this animation, or the reintroduction of the character of the Celestial Toymaker in the TV series ... Gary Russell, who worked on the animation in its early stages, suggested on Facebook that the animation was planned and underway a long time before 'The Giggle' was made ... which suggests that perhaps Russell T Davies and the TV Series team took some cues from what was being done and incorporated them into 'The Giggle'. For the TV story and the animation do act as a strange sort of side-by-side set.

We have the idea of doors leading to other doors, the Toymaker appearing and disappearing like magic, an over-large Toymaker overseeing all he surveys ... and the colourful palate with which the sets and characters are painted.

For the animation, it almost works. I say almost, as the weak point is the human characters. The Doctor, and his companions Steven and Dodo, stand out as being awful. They barely resemble the on-screen counterparts, and while I like the animation of Dodo (I suspect that whoever was acting as the animation base for her was a better actor than those for the Doctor and Steven), the Doctor and Steven are stiff and wrong-looking throughout.  It's a shame that these characters (and perhaps the Toymaker himself) couldn't have been rendered as more human-looking, to better counterpoint with the toys and dolls and soldiers who make up the rest of the cast.  Luckily the Doctor isn't in the story much - he is made invisible by the Toymaker for the second and third episodes, and only his hand is seen ...

The changes to the other characters' look really works as they are unreal characters, larger than life in some cases, so their creation as 2D/3D playing card characters, or as knitted toys, makes the most of the idea that the Toymaker has turned real people into his playthings.

The soundtrack has been amended and augmented to 'sell' the new visuals, with new sound effects accompanying various appearings and disappearings (the effect seems to be from another sixties Doctor Who story, 'The Mind Robber') and other aural changes to accompany what we see on screen.

In many respects, it's the perfect story to benefit from this sort of radical reinvention (perhaps the only other might be the aforementioned 'The Mind Robber', and I do wonder if the use of the sound effect is a 'clue' to someone's theory that the Toymaker is actually running the 'Master Brain' in that story. Not something I'd ever considered to be honest ... but I've seen it said. Likewise the idea that the Toymaker is of the same 'pantheon' as the Great Intelligence, or the Animus, or the Eternals ... some Doctor Who fans do love to try and join everything together - even when there's no on-screen evidence to suggest anything of the sort!)

I was, to be fair, dreading seeing this animation as the initial visuals released online were so poor and so divergent from the TV visuals. But, watching it, it does work. The whole thing complements the story, and it's more engrossing with something interesting to look at.

I have to mention that the disks do have a remastered version of the existing episode four, and that's superb to see, and there's also a 'photo reconstruction' of the story as well, using the unaltered* soundtrack, images and telesnaps (pictures taken at the time off the television - in this case there are actually none from this story available, but I have a feeling they used some from other stories ...) and even some animation to visualise more complex sequences. This is very well done, and sort of shows that they didn't really need to have gone the whole reimagining route in the first place as what did happen on screen was perfectly good enough!

* It's worth mentioning that the soundtrack does have one particular change which is down to attitudes and sensibilities changing over time. The King mumbles a rhyme at one point: 'Eenie, meenie, minie, mo ...' and the second line included a word which has now fallen from popular usage and which is considered offensive. It's mumbled by the King under his breath so was barely heard anyway, but all versions of the soundtrack on this release have it excised/covered up.

Other extras on the disk include the first in a series of 'Escape Room' presentations, wherein Doctor Who cast members try and work out how to escape from a room full of clues and objects. Sorry, but this is dire. It's presented by Emily Cook, and the sequences where poor Peter Purves (who played Steven in the sixties), Maureen O'Brien (who played Vicki in the sixties) and, oddly, Lisa Bowerman (who was in Doctor Who right at the end of it's initial run in the eighties, in a story called 'Survival'), try to work out what to do and how to do it are painful. I only managed to take about 10 minutes before I had to turn it off.  Sorry chaps and chapesses ... I know your hearts are in the right places, but this just didn't work for me.

Overall, this is another Doctor Who release which might be of interest to some, but not for others. I suspect that young fans who watched and enjoyed Neil Patrick Harris as the Toymaker in 'The Giggle' might get a kick out of it as it shares sensibilities with that performance and story. As for us older fans, well it depends on how set you are on your Doctor Who being and looking exactly as it was when it was first transmitted in the sixties. The TV series itself is certainly not that - and hasn't been for many years now - but I appreciate that 'messing with the past' can be a hot topic, and it's not for everyone. So choose wisely ... 

'Make your last move, Doctor ... Make your last move ...'

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Review: Doctor Who: The Highlanders on Vinyl

Demon Records have joined forces with HMV for the next release of a Doctor Who vinyl ... and this is on something called 'HMV Vinyl Week' ... not sure what that is, but it seems to be a week when HMV have available a variety of exclusive LP records for sale. It's a little like 'Record Store Day' (which is just for independents) for HMV ... And this record is in the '1921' range of releases ...

So the release that they have chosen this time is the soundtrack to a sixties Doctor Who story called 'The Highlanders'. This is interesting as firstly, the actual television episodes don't exist - so we can't see the story. And secondly as this story was the introduction of the Doctor's Companion Jamie, played by Frazer Hines ... and indeed it's Hines who narrates the soundtrack (by which I mean he fills the listener in on what's happening during the sequences when there's no dialogue and it's hard to tell what's going on).

The LP records are in a blue and a red translucent vinyl (I assume echoing the colour of Jamie's tartan) and each comes in a slipsleeve containing Radio Times style billings for each episode. The cover image is a strangely unimpactful image of the TARDIS on the battlefield with Redcoats and Highlanders fighting, and with a cannon in the foreground.

Overall it's a nice addition to the range of vinyl releases of Doctor Who.  Good to see another sixties story get the treatment.

CAT NO: DEMWHOLP014
RELEASE DATE: 14th June 2024
FORMAT: 2LP 140g Translucent Red & Blue Vinyl
BARCODE: 5014797909540

Available from: https://hmv.com/store/music/vinyl/doctor-who-the-highlanders-(hmv-exclusive)-1921-ed



Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Gary Numan at Sheffield Leadmill - 20/05/24

I have a long history with Mr Numan! Way back in the mists of ancient time, my brother Alan and I happened to catch him and Tubeway Army performing 'Are "Friends" Electric?' on Top of the Pops ... some research suggests this might have been 24 May 1979 ... and there's even a video of the performance on YouTube!

The next day Alan went out and bought the single, and then, when we realised that the album, Replicas, was available, this became the first album that I ever bought ... and I loved it to pieces.

I went on to devour the next album, The Pleasure Principle (released 7 September 1979), now dropping the Tubeway Army name, and Alan and I managed to get tickets to Gary's gig at the Hammersmith Odeon that year as well (on the 18th September) and we were blown away by the performance and the music. (As a sideline, support at that gig was an unknown band called Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, and the two chaps had a tape machine centre stage and set it going and then sung along ... I liked the music but I disliked the singer's voice!)

After that I got Telekon, the third album ... but after that, the music seemed to dip and I was less enthralled by it ... so I drifted away. Later on I discovered (via Alan) that there was a double album called The Plan, containing pre-'Our Friends' tracks and B sides ... and I got and loved that as well ... I also remember from that time a preview of four tracks ('Cars', 'Airlane', 'Films' and 'Conversation') for The Pleasure Principle on the John Peel show (transmitted 25 June 1979) that I loved to bits ... and of course the original Tubeway Army LP, reissued mid-1979which, again, I got and loved!

Now, some 45 years later, and for Alan's 60th Birthday, I managed to get tickets for the Anniversary tour at the Sheffield Leadmill ... the idea of the tour was that Gary was playing material from those first two albums and so that really appealed to me ... And it was just 4 days adrift from the anniversary of that iconic first television appearance.

So we rocked up at the Leadmill after a fairly long and boring train journey, and hung around waiting for the doors to open. Because I had a bad foot from a fall before Christmas last year, and Alan has bad knees, I had arranged for us to have seats in 'the mezzanine' ... and a friend, Alex, had done the same ... so we managed to get in early, beating standing in the queue for ages, and were taken to 'the mezzanine' which turned out to be a small raised platform in one corner of the room, from where we had a great unobstructed view of the stage (ok, we couldn't see the left hand side at all and I didn't even realise that this was where the keyboards/synth player was!) but we also had a rail to lean on and seats when we needed them ... so it was great!

The gig started late - around 9pm (people had suggested 8pm was when it started), but from the outset, it was astonishingly good.  A rendition of 'Replicas' led into 'ME' and the crowd was loving the music and Gary was in his element ... performing and singing, and even smiling on occasion! He was joined on stage by two 'priests' on guitar (Steve Harris (Guitar) and Tim Slade (Bass)), and these solemn. bald-headed creatures rocked the instruments and even played up a little as they went ... there was also a drummer (Jimmy Von Boom - aka Jimmy Vincent Lucido), and the synth player (David Brooks) ... and all were superb.

Pic (c) 2024 David J Howe

The familiar songs came thick and fast, all very familiar from those first two albums ... the lighting was amazing, with strobes, and red, blue and green spots playing out over the stage and into the audience, with strobe and other effects too, all tied in with the music and the songs ... it was superb!

What Gary had done was to take the original songs, and given them some meat and heft so they weren't exactly the same as on the albums, but were all recognisable ... There was a smashing beat and vibe throughout, and thankfully the bass wasn't too loud so you could actually hear them without them all distorting or the beat making your chest and teeth ache!

Pic (c) 2024 David J Howe


I loved the rendition of the instrumental 'Airlane' about half way through, and then we came to 'Down in the Park', possibly one of my favourites ... and it was sublime ... a superb performance ...

As is usual for these events, Gary and the team finished up and waved and headed offstage ... but it's always a ruse ... as a couple of minutes later they were back, and the familiar opening warble of 'Cars' started up and of course the crowd went wild ... then ... the one everyone had been waiting for, 'Are "Friends" Electric?' ... and although his voice seemed to be a little stretched by this time, Gary went for it and turned in a great performance of his breakthrough hit ... When at the end his voice cracked as he said 'You see it meant everything to me', you really believe it.



Thank you Gary for 45 years of music and pleasure ... You made two old chaps very, very happy!

The following Photographs are (c) Alan Howe 2024






The following Photographs are (c) Alex Storer 2024









Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Review: Adventures in Type and Space

Every so often a Doctor Who book comes along which breaks the mould ... it's something so 'out there' that you perhaps felt that there might never be a book all about it, or that maybe there wasn't much to say about the subject.

Along comes Graham Kibble-White, Jack Kibble-White and Stuart Manning asking me to hold their pint.

Adventures in Type and Space is just that book. It's a celebration of the early days of the Doctor Who title sequences, covering all the Classic series from Hartnell to McCoy. It includes interviews with the main talents behind the sequences: Bernard Lodge, Sid Sutton Oliver Elmes and Gareth Edwards and takes in discussions of typefaces, printing techniques, the famous 'slit scan' process and much, much besides ... and it's a fascinating read!

Illustrated with all manner of pictures of title sequences, machinery, catalogues and other ephemera - including the ACTUAL plate used to print the famed diamond logo (and I so want one of the prints from it, signed by Bernard Lodge!) - the book takes us on a history trip through the development of the BBC Graphics department, taking in the challenges of early title sequences, up to the computer generated sequences of the late eighties. There's so much in here which is of interest, and it's all viewed through the lens of the Doctor Who fan ... meaning that it manages to all stay relevant and grounded and interested.

It's a smashing piece of work, and if you have ever wondered how they did the titles, or want to learn more of the history and development of the art form then I commend it to you.

Copies were available from Ten Acre Films here: https://tenacrefilms.bigcartel.com/, but it seems to now be sold out. However I'm told that The Who Shop may still have copies available ... :)

Maybe there will be a reprint. There deserves to be!

Monday, April 22, 2024

Review: The Monster Man

The Monster Man is the latest release from Keith Barnfather and Reeltime Pictures, and as usual it's a slick and professional production.

Superbly edited by Roger Stevens, the production focusses on Neil Cole, the creator and proprietor of the Museum of Classic SciFi based in Allendale, England, and his work restoring old screen-used props and costumes for display.

The love and work that goes into these projects become evident as Cole, an engaging and interesting character, introduces us to his top ten restorations ... and the amazing work that goes into them becomes apparent.  He receives through the post a hand from an '80s Doctor Who monster, The Destroyer, to display - he already has the matching hand! He works on a Bannerman, on the Garm, both from Doctor Who, on a Thing mask from The Fantastic Four ... large and small, Cole is so enthusiastic about his passion, and that enthusiasm rubs off on the viewer.

There's so much to see inside the crammed cases of the Museum - I have visited and know how small a space it really is - and at one point Cole mentions there are more than 300 items on display! And many more in storage which he cannot fit in - so I assume he constantly cycles them and keeps the museum interesting for repeat visitors.

As the top ten comes to a conclusion, you feel an affinity with Cole and his passion. What he has done is incredible as virtually a one-man operation, and the battles he has fought with the local council have been ridiculous and painful as they attempted to use his Museum as a political football ... whereas in fact it's probably drawn more footfall and custom to Allendale through café and food sales and guest house bookings than anything else.

Overall the DVD is exceptionally entertaining. Barnfather and Stevens never forget that this is meant to be fun, and the production takes a potentially dry subject and turns it into an exciting and compelling documentary, which would be right at place on any streaming service or official Blu-Ray release.

The DVD is available to buy or to stream from: https://timetraveltv.com/programme/593

Sunday, April 21, 2024

Review: Cover B by Will Brooks

Will Brooks is something of a legend! For several years he was the artist on 'Cover B' for all the Titan Doctor Who comic releases.  For those not in the know, Titan released all their Doctor Who comics with multiple covers from different artists - basically making it impossible to collect them all. Indeed, the first issue of their first Tenth Doctor comic had 40 or so different covers, many exclusives to one store or retailer or another ... so utterly impossible to get them all!  'Cover B' was the photo cover, and the one that Brooks did each time.

Brooks has collected all these covers into a lovely hardback and paperback book which was kickstarted last year and which arrived a couple of weeks ago - the book is still available via the kickstarter as 'late pledges' here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1666382001/cover-b

What is so great about Brooks' work is that in most cases there's a dynamic about the art which is often missing in other 'cut it out and slap it together' pieces of photoshop. He crafts stories into the pieces, and, even though relying on photographs, they are stitched together, Frankenstein-like, to create new pieces. A hand from there, a body from here, a watch from somewhere else, a background taken on holiday, a photo of an eye from over there ... all to create a magnificent coherent ensemble image which looks as real as if it was photographed as it actually appeared!

Along the way Brooks details the story of how he came to be involved, and the trials and tribulations of trying to create this art against a backdrop of BBC Licensing, who seemed to not understand what he needed. They starved him of key photographs, and came back with late requests to remove items, monsters and so on ... all of which added to the general adversity of creating effective cover art for a licensed magazine. One strange request was that the 13th Doctor, Jodie Whittaker, should never be seen as threatened ... so she had to appear on her own or with her 'fam' - no monsters allowed to be there ... which lead to a fairly boring set of images, all of which seem to be straight out of the PR folder.

But Brooks tried. No Daleks to be used in the early years ... no Zygons permitted ... ideas scuppered ... whole covers created and then scrapped ... it's quite the horror story. And Brooks also mentions how the pay decreased over time as well ... less and less being spent, until Titan changed editors and the 'new guard' decided that they didn't want to pay anyone external for doing a photo cover and brought it all in house. End of an era.

Luckily, said era is documented, described and beautifully illustrated in this book. We have rough covers: cut and pastes of pictures to show alignments and basic ideas. Unused covers, covers which form sequences and conceptual work showing scenes you'd never quite imagine. It's quite the tour de force.

A remarkable art book of Doctor Who imagery all created by one man!  It's a triumph!

Friday, February 16, 2024

New Doctor Who Vinyl for Record Store Day 2024


 “We are at the very beginning…”

Demon Records presents, exclusive to Record Store Day 2024, the complete narrated TV soundtrack of the Doctor Who story ‘The Edge Of Destruction’. This brand new audio presentation, making its debut in any format with this vinyl release, features unique linking narration by Carole Ann Ford. There’s also a bonus interview with Carole herself, in which she recalls playing Susan, the Doctor’s granddaughter, in the original TV episodes.

The vinyl boasts a picture disc Side A, showing the Ship’s melting ormolu clock from a pivotal scene in the story, and an exclusive Zoetrope Side B, depicting the TARDIS swirling across space and time (best experienced using a smartphone running a third party stroboscope app). The 12” disc is presented in a stunning die cut artwork outer sleeve.

Escaping from their previous adventure, the Doctor, Susan, Ian Chesterton (William Russell) and Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill) are inside the TARDIS when it appears to be taken over by an outside force. 2024 is the 60th anniversary of this two episode story starring William Hartnell as the Doctor. First broadcast on 8 & 15 February 1964, it was only the third ever Doctor Who serial to be transmitted.

Doctor Who returns to BBC TV and Disney+ in Spring 2024 with Ncuti Gatwa in his first full series as the Fifteenth Doctor.

Side A
The Edge Of Destruction

Side B
The Brink Of Disaster

CAT NO: DEMREC1190
RELEASE DATE: 20th April 2024
FORMAT: Zoetrope Picture Disc
BARCODE: 5014797910898

Friday, February 09, 2024

REVIEW: NEW DOCTOR WHO TARGET BOOKS

At the end of 2023 we had the enjoyment of seeing four new Doctor Who adventures on telly ... three with the Doctor in the form of David Tennant (again) and one with the brand new Doctor in the form of Ncuti Gatwa ... and sure as salt, the novelisations of the adventures appeared. First on Kindle, and then in paperback and hardback (for the Gatwa one only).

I have a long association with the Target Doctor Who novelisation line. First as a reader, then as a collector, then as a chronicler (researching and writing The Target Book (www.telos.co.uk or Amazon where you live), and now penning the liner notes for the audio readings of the old novelisations. So turning my attention to some new fare was exciting indeed.


The Star Beast by Gary Russell

First off is The Star Beast. On TV this was a bit of a run-around with aliens and explosions and franticness as the Doctor and Donna become reacquainted, meet Beep the Meep, and figure out what's going on all in the space of an hour. The story is based on a comic adventure from way back, and Russell T Davies has reinvented it for the small screen. It seems that Gary Russell has then sort of backwards finessed it and included more from the original comic ...

But the book is a nice read, if a little unadventurous. The characters are all there, and, as in the CD liner notes I tend to look at what has been added/changed for each book, there's some nice new material about a character called Stew Ferguson which adds interest and humanity to the proceedings.

I also like to see how the Doctor is described ... and here we have 'a tall, thin guy in a long blue coat ... his brown hair blowing slightly in the breeze' which is an excellent thumbnail of the 14th Doctor.

Overall it's enjoyable and rattles through the breathless adventure with aplomb ... good job.

Wild Blue Yonder by Mark Morris

The middle of the three 14th Doctor adventures, and a slight change of tone and pace as the Doctor and Donna find themselves on a vast spacecraft at the edge of the universe ... with a mystery to be solved.

Mark Morris follows the TV story pretty closely here (and I note he has mentioned online that this was indeed the brief) and he does a superb job of bringing this slightly atypical story to the page. There are only two characters in it (the Doctor and Donna), and they find themselves being mimicked by an alien entity/two entities while a stumpy robot walks, one step at a time, very slowly, down a long corridor ...

I enjoyed the prose here and there's some smashing descriptions which really bring the visuals to life. The prologue with Isaac Newton is included, and I still find it odd - not having anything to do with anything else in the story - but having more prose is not a problem!

I do feel that there's perhaps an element of foreshadowing missing, in that the final story, The Giggle, alludes back to actions taken here ... and it might have been nice to have teased a little ... but the story stands up nicely.  I liked the idea of numbering the chapters using the alien words as well.

And the Doctor? We get 'a skinny man in an oddly patterned, tight fitting suit whose hair stuck up at odd angles.'  Very nice.

Overall I found it more satisfying than The Star Beast. Mark Morris' writing flows and provides an enjoyable experience as we explore the mystery with the characters ... and not giving anything away must have been challenging to achieve in prose. 

The Giggle by James Goss

The final book of the 14th Doctor's stories is The Giggle, and this is in a different realm. What's perhaps most interesting is that Morris was apparently told he couldn't embellish the story over what was on TV, whereas Goss does nothing but. And the book is far better and richer for it.

So the third adventure sees the return of the Toymaker from a Doctor Who story from 1965, played by Neil Patrick Harris, and is another change of tone as the character is set on challenging the Doctor to more games to try and even the score ... and it's the Doctor's liberal use of salt at the end of the universe in Wild Blue Yonder which allowed this to happen.

The novelisation opens with a recap from the end of Wild Blue Yonder and it was interesting to see the slight variation of text between Morris and Goss in this regard, but from there we launch into the story as seen on TV ... the Toymaker with his cod Germanic accent, Stooky Bill, the chaos on Earth, UNIT Tower and so on ... but the text is peppered with odd phrases ... something is afoot. And that something is the Toymaker, who has actually invaded the book, and eventually he emerges to take over the tale himself ... and the book is crazed fun.

There are word puzzles and mazes along the way. On TV when Donna is separated from the Doctor in the corridors of doors, in the book it becomes a 'make your own adventure' with 'To try the first door, go to move xxx' or whatever (the text echoing the Doctor playing the Trilogic Game in the original sixties story) ... great fun. I read through the book consecutively, so arrived at the little piece which you don't get to if you play the game properly ... another nice conceit.

The section where the Toymaker dances in UNIT HQ to The Spice Girls singing 'Spice Up Your Life' is interesting ... rather than as on TV, we have here a discussion with a copyright lawyer as to why the lyrics cannot be used, followed by a manic sequence where the words are omitted and replaced with Las instead ... a neat way of getting around the vast expense of reproducing lyrics in print ...

Overall the book is joyous fun ... it oozes from every page ... and makes the most of the prose form to deliver the adventure to the reader. In the audio reading of the novelisation, Goss has changed it again, and the puzzles which work in the book in printed form are changed to audio equivalents ... clever and nicely done.

And the 14th Doctor: there's not much description at all. Skinny. Hair ready to run for the hills. But no general description.

For the 15th Doctor: He's young. Handsome. Dark skin. That's it. But then this is from the Toymaker's point of view, so maybe that accounts for it. (As on TV Mel thinks he's beautiful and Donna asks if he comes in a range of colours.)

Overall this is a great example of a book which takes the translation of a story into prose and runs with it. It's frantic, exciting and so much fun! Easily the best of the four novelisations.

The Church on Ruby Road by Esme Jikiemi-Pearson

And so to the last of the four, and the only one in hardback. While this says it's a Target book on the inside flap, there is no logo and no other indication that this is what it is ... maybe the eventual paperback will follow the more accepted format.

Anyway, this seems to be the second book from the author (this came out on Jan 25 whereas her 'debut' novel, The Principal of Moments, came out on Jan 18, but her PR suggests she's 'the Sunday Times Bestselling author of the The Order of Legends trilogy' ... which I can't find any reference to ... unless Principal is perhaps the first volume in this trilogy?) and it's good to see someone new writing for the Doctor Who range.

It's another novelisation which sticks close to the screenplay, but here the author has a lightness of touch to the prose which is very pleasing. By telling it (mostly) through the viewpoint of Ruby Sunday, we get a sense that she is a real person thrust into unreal situations, and it all works nicely, feeling warm and fluffy when you need it to. The descriptions are good, with some effective material around the goblin ship and its inhabitants, and although the book seems slight, it does cover all the ground. There's even a nice back-reference to The Giggle and the Toymaker to explain the goblins as being part of his legacy.

In terms of the Doctor ... well sadly it seems that Jikiemi-Pearson forgot to describe him. He has brown eyes, a long brown coat, 'a galaxy lived on his skin' (love this description by the way), strong arms ... but otherwise he's just 'the man' in the early parts before he's called the Doctor. I guess you could easily read the book with the fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) in your mind if you wanted to and it wouldn't make much difference as the same 'teeth flashing white' note applies there as well.

Overall I enjoyed the book, but compared with The Giggle, it's not nearly as much fun (but then not much would be). As a proper introduction to the 15th Doctor it also falls a little flat as there's nothing really here to make him stand out. But the writing is eloquent, and there's a deftness to it all. Enjoyable.

And one more thing: the final words from the mysterious Mrs Flood (no clues here) are clearly spoken to herself and not to Abdul or the audience ...